Filmmaker Jamie Howell is making a documentary about tree fruit industry legend, the late great Grady Auvil.
Auvil, an orchardist in Orondo, Washington, was active in the industry until he died in 1998 at the age of 93. He helped pioneer Granny Smith, Gala, and Fuji apples in the Pacific Northwest.
Howell, who runs Howell at the Moon Productions in Wenatchee, Washington, has already made two films about the tree fruit industry.
The first, which he made with Guy Evans of Chelan, was entitled Broken Limbs: Apples, Agriculture and the New American Farmer. Released in 2003, it depicted the struggles that fruit growers have been going through in recent years.
His next project was a retrospective documentary about the Washington tree fruit industry to mark the 100th anniversary of the Washington State Horticultural Association. The film, 100 Years of Hort, was presented at the 2004 Hort Convention, where Howell happened to talk to Paul King, who worked at Auvil Fruit Company for many years. King suggested that Grady Auvil would make a great subject for a documentary.
“There was no arguing with that,” Howell said. “It’s interesting there’s not been something done on him already.”
Howell started delving into Auvil’s life a little more and decided to go ahead and make a film to be called Gee Whiz: The Story of Grady Auvil. Gee Whiz is the name of the label that Auvil used for his top-grade fruit.
Though 100 Years of Hort involved historical discussion, this project is his first individual portrait film.
“The goal is to present a complete picture of a complex man,” he said.
The greatest challenge will not be gathering material. “Everyone who knew him had a story about him,” he added. “There are great stories. He left a mark on you when you met him.”
Howell thinks capturing the philosophies behind what Auvil did will be the greatest challenge, because that will be the most important element.
“When I hear stories about him, what really strikes me are the philosophies he had about business. In this proprietary business environment, he was a man who shared knowledge very openly. He was a man who gave lavishly to his community, and educational institutions, and the industry. I think those are lessons that will come through in the documentary that people can take away from it.”
The project also has a preservation element. It will capture an important life in a way that is easily accessible. Howell is also working to involve the community in the creation of the film in the hope that by being involved in it, people will form stronger bonds with their community. He hopes to harvest local talent, and music for the soundtrack will be by musicians and musical groups from Northcentral Washington.
But he expects that the finished product will have a wide audience and said it’s reasonable to expect that the 30-minute documentary will be televised regionally by the Public Broadcasting Service.
Howell is fundraiser for the venture, as well as director and producer. The project will be done on a nonprofit basis, at a cost of $104,000. He has a $5,000 grant from the Community Foundation of North Central Washington and is looking for more grants, as well as donations from private sources.
Howell senses excitement in the fruit industry about the project as well as confidence that it will be successful. His aim is to have the film ready to show at the 2006 Hort Convention.
The first $5,000 grant will allow him to make a trailer to help people understand more about what he is doing, and he hopes this will stimulate the fundraising.
In addition to funding, he’s looking for more stories about Auvil. He expects the film will portray aspects of him that people don’t know about.
“That’s the joy of documentary filmmaking,” he said. “It really is a discovery. I don’t know if there’s some dark secret-that’s not what I’m after, but undoubtedly there will be some revelations about him.”
For more information, or to offer donations or recollections, check the Web site at www.auvildoc.org or call Howell at (509) 679-6411.